This essay argues that the Nestor's Cup Inscription is not a joke, but rather a magical spell designed to work as an aphrodisiac. It is divided into two parts, the first dealing with the hexametrical couplet (lines 2 and 3 of the inscription) and the second with the opening line. In the first section the author argues that the hexameters comprise a bonafide magical incantation, pointing out that: (1) the two hexameters take the semantic form of a conditional curse well known from oaths and proprietary inscriptions of the archaic period and from the earliest extant magical texts; (2) hexametrical verse was commonly used as early as the classical period-and probably much earlier-in magical incantations; (3) prosaic words in the inscription (such as potêrion) that do not appear elsewhere in literary hexameters, but are used in the Greek magical tradition, may in fact be terms of a quasi-technical nature that survive from a very old, but poorly documented, tradition of metrical incantations; and (4) the deictic pronoun in the second line of the inscription (το̃δε) signals the use of performative language common in magical spells. The second section of the paper turns to the opening line of the inscription, arguing that instead of introducing some sophisticated intertextual joke, this line can be best understood as a label or rubric of the sort frequently used to signify authorship or ownership in archaic inscriptions and other early texts to "seal" a writer's name to his œuvre. In later magical texts such rubrics boast a legendary author of a particular incantation or ritual. The author concludes that this inscription records an erotic spell traditionally spoken over a cup without any recourse to writing, and that its appearance on the cup from Pithecusae resulted from a random and ultimately unsuccessful experiment to transfer and transform an oral incantation into a written one in an age of incipient literacy.
Taking the "Nestor's Cup Inscription" Seriously: Erotic Magic and Conditional Curses in the Earliest Inscribed Hexameters
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Christopher A. Faraone; Taking the "Nestor's Cup Inscription" Seriously: Erotic Magic and Conditional Curses in the Earliest Inscribed Hexameters. Classical Antiquity 1 April 1996; 15 (1): 77–112. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/25011032
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